--- - 9 - ---

(Author's Note: Okay, okay, I'll relent. Here's FFIX--a few plot points changed for the sake of fanfic continuity. I'll make up a plausible explanation later....)

Zidane woke up with a pounding headache.

That was about all he registered about the world for several long seconds--it wasn't until he heard a plaintive whining coming from off to his right that he tried to move.

There was a dim red light leaking from somewhere far, far above--only enough to allow him to see vague shapes lurking in the gloom. His hand crept over the dirt floor, and he tensed as a loud grumble accompanied a rough shake of the ground and the world as he knew it around him.

With a bit of a shock, his hand brushed against something metal in the darkness--a coat button. It was was surrounded by fabric, and the rough feel of it gave him a few clues. "Vivi?" he croaked in a rough whisper.

Two luminous eyes opened, adding to the little light there was. "Zidane?" asked a small voice. "You're all right? Where are we?"

"I don't know," Zidane answered. His throat was raw--it hurt to say anything, but he had to try. "I don't know where we are, or where anyone else is."

Vivi looked around the place. "It's a cave," he said. "I can see everyone, but... but I'm not sure how they all are. None of them are moving." There was a sniffle, and the glowing eyes turned back to Zidane. "Do you think that they're--that they might have stopped--"

"No!" Zidane burst. "They're not... dead."

"I'm afraid," Vivi confessed. "I don't know where we are."

There was the sound of someone shifting position in the darkness, and a voice rang out. "Stop whining."

Amarant.

"Hey, the guy's scared!" Zidane defended. "You don't need to pick on him."

"We're never going to get out of here if we're all scared," Amarant said darkly. "If you want my help at all, you'll stop acting like a bunch of kids."

"It's... all right, Zidane," Vivi managed, sounding definitely not all right. "I'll be okay."

There was the sound of Amarant getting up, a few footsteps, and a loud clangg! Amarant cursed.

"That's Steiner," Vivi said.

"Damn knight."

"Vivi?"

"Y-yes?"

"Can you actually see in here?"

The was a pause, and the glowing eyes bobbed in what Zidane had to assume was a nod. "Kinda."

"Can you describe this place?"

Vivi looked away, staring around. "It's big," he said. "I think it's a cave. There's dirt everywhere--the walls are made of dirt, and I can't see the ceiling very well--it's too high up. There are a lot of people, but not many are moving."

"Is there anything else?" Amarant asked. "Where's that red coming from?"

"The red light...." Vivi looked around again. "There's a crack in the ceiling. I can see clouds."

"Clouds?" Zidane asked.

"Yeah... red clouds." Vivi's hand crept out, latchign onto the hem of Zidane's vest. "And it's a red sky."

"A red sky?" Zidane asked, worry beginning to gnaw at him.

"Real red."

There was movement from behind him, and Zidane turned to see--

--another ambiguous form in the darkness.

"Terra's sky is red," Mikoto whispered simply, those four words containing all the information they wanted--or didn't want--to know.